I don’t know why on Earth security officers with the Transportation Security Administration would want to – would have to – search a wheelchair-bound 3-year-old with spina bifida.
Yet there was the Forck family of Missouri, on their way to catch their flight to Walt Disney World last month, when TSA agents at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport decided that 3-year-old Lucy was a security risk. She was taken out of her little pink wheelchair – after having her favorite stuffed animal taken from her – while officers conducted a “swab” of her chair.
WHY? ACCORDING to Lucy’s father, attorney Nathan Forck, the TSA “specifically told me that they were singling her out for this special treatment because she’s in a wheelchair.”
No probable cause. Just a little pink wheelchair – the symbol of airborne terrorists everywhere.
If you watch the video Lucy’s mother took – if you can hear it over Lucy’s gut-wrenching sobs – you can hear a TSA agent telling the Forcks it was “illegal” to record the incident as it unfolded.
Except it isn’t illegal. A better-trained TSA agent would have known that. Maybe. Or perhaps the agent missed the day that was covered, during the more than 120 hours of training a TSA security officer is supposed to go through.
If you think “more than 120 hours” sounds like a lot, consider that a Georgia law enforcement officer requires at least 408 hours of training before being allowed to professionally put on a badge.
And if I told you the thousands of training hours required to become a licensed cosmetologist
in Georgia, you wouldn’t believe me.
The public keeps getting told about the TSA’s important role in homeland security. If it’s so important, shouldn’t its officers receive at least as much training as the average police officer?
If you had personnel with more professional discernment, maybe you wouldn’t have incidents such as the one involving internationally renowned cellist Alban Gerhardt. When he arrived in Chicago last month, he opened his cello case to find that ham-fisted TSA agents – after rummaging through the case in Washington, D.C. – apparently slammed the case shut, snapping in half Gerhardt’s $20,000 bow made by acclaimed 19th-century craftsman Heinrich Knopf. Gerhardt discovered later that slamming the lid also cracked his expensive Goffriller cello.
BUT MY BEEF with the lack of training is just one item on the laundry list of problems with the TSA:
• The TSA is a textbook example of waste. That’s according to a joint report by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In a Dallas warehouse, for example, $184 million worth of security equipment sits unused, costing taxpayers $23 million in depreciation and $3.5 million a year just to lease and manage the warehouse.
• While everyone’s talking about cutting government amid a sour economy, the TSA has been hiring more personnel even though the number of air travelers has been going down. That’s according to a report by the Committee on Homeland Security. Almost half
of the TSA’s $3 billion budget is eaten up by providing pay and benefits to its airport screeners, which comprise more than three-fourths of the TSA’s 62,000 employees.
• Over the past three years, the TSA’s budget for its explosive-sniffing canine program has bloated to $100 million. It’s not a bad idea to have bomb-sniffing dogs, but it’s bad the way the TSA does it. A report from the Government Accountability Office found that the TSA keeps failing to meet training requirements, and it pitifully underuses its 760 canine teams.
• Atlanta’s WSB-TV uncovered a federal database showing hundreds of complaints from air travelers about items missing from their luggage – cash, jewelry, clothes and electronics. In what could be a related story, TSA agents across the country have been arrested, charged and sentenced for trying to steal cash, jewelry, clothes and electronics.
And since we’re trying to conserve paper here, I’ll refrain from listing all the incidents and complaints stemming from intrusive pat-downs of little kids, senior citizens and medically fragile travellers.
SEVERAL YEARS ago there was a skit on the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live depicting airport security screeners as a motley collection of vacant, slack-jawed functionaries who displayed a bored indifference toward increasingly angry airline passengers. It was funny when it was aired in January 2001, before the 9/11 attacks that galvanized America’s attention toward heightened airline security.
The TSA was formed 70 days after those attacks. Airline security is no longer a laughing matter.
So why is the TSA such a bitter joke?